Hate speech laws have got to go: Repeal 18C

On April 6, 2014, in Commentary, by mkennedy

Michael Kennedy

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act must be repealed.  Attorney-General George Brandis is proposing to repeal this section which criminalises speech which can be interpreted to be offensive or derogatory.  The Left and some community group leaders are pressuring the  government not to go ahead with this reform.  The political left wing  today is generally against free speech, and display little understanding  of why free speech is important.  Unfortunately, hatred and mistrust of the Liberal party may be motivating people who may otherwise be more  supportive of free speech to oppose these reforms.  “Hate speech is not  free speech” is thrown around all too frequently and represents a gross misunderstanding of Western philosophy and ideals.

The argument against repealing this section generally involves objections to people using racial slurs and that this would give people licence to offend.  Whether this is reasonable or not is not what we are debating.  It is in fact irrelevant whether the lefts demands sound reasonable.  The question is, does a government have a right to stop people expressing an opinion, and does such restriction have any benefit? Should we allow government, or any body for that matter, this right?  The debate is not whether ‘hate speech’ is offensive of not, or can be found to be offensive by some, it is whether we allow others to
define what is acceptable speech or not.  A free society requires freedom of thought, and freedom of thought can only exist when people are free to express thought.

All suppression of dissenting thought through history has involved suppression of speech, as this is the only practical means to combat heretical or unwanted thoughts.  Suppression of speech almost always involved retribution after the fact.  In the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, one was free to think what they like, and even free to express that amongst those who agreed, in private, but when they expressed their thoughts, in speech or print, then there were consequences which came later.  The means be which free speech was curtailed were similar to the means that ‘hate crime’ laws curtain speech.  In the Soviet Union, there were not armed guards stopping people from speaking, or preventing people from printing forbidden publication.  But when one exercised that ‘freedom’, there were consequences which came later, perhaps a demotion, being moved to a smaller house, or arrest or gulag.  One was free to speak, as long as they realised there were repercussions.  It does in fact sound somewhat similar to how the left talk of ‘free speech’.  You are free to speak, but you must accept that you will have people trying to get you fired, or that you will be charged.  This is how all totalitarian regimes have operated, by insinuating that there is a free speech, but warning of ‘consequences’, which of course, were brought on by the speakers ‘actions’ and not the authority.  Just as the USSR made people have ‘consequences’, so to do Leftists who say we must be accountable, bring down ‘consequences’ through activist action to those they disagree with.  The only consequences one must be made responsible for, are those related to their speech and not for retribution.

Humour often has the starkest truths, as the following joke from an
Armenian radio show demonstrates…

Q: What is the difference between the Constitutions of the USA and USSR?  Both of them guarantee freedom of speech.

A: Yes, but the Constitution of the USA also guarantees freedom after the speech.

Indeed, protection of freedom of speech necessitates protection from retribution and from suppression.  The very foundation of freedom of
speech rests in protecting one from a justice system, official or unofficial, which seeks to punish one who has spoken based on a negative opinion of that speech.  That is, the law must not allow punishment to be metered out to someone because of an unfavourable opinion of their speech.  One must be protected from lefts use of what they call “free speech” to attempt to fire or professionally ruin them due to their differing opinion or standards.  This is why the First Amendment of the US Constitution enforces free speech, not by stating that one has the right to speak freely, but that “Congress shall make no law” to curtail speech.  Free speech isn’t granted, it can only be taken away.  Free speech can only exist when the law forbids it being taken away, and the most common means by which free speech is taken away, is retribution
after the speech.

Why Free Speech is important

Freedom from tyranny, social progress and the advancement of the scientific and political fields relies on one factor.  The ability to say “That’s wrong”.  This isn’t the only factor, but it is a critical one.  Speech is suppressed to protect a status quo, to protect an ideal or a religious or moral view from rivals.  Whether a theocracy, Communism, an incorrect but entrenched scientific view or a particular ideology these seek safety by suppressing dissent to avoid being exposed or torn apart.

The Geocentric model of the Universe, for example, persisted despite evidence to the contrary due to retributions to those who simply said it was false.  Echoing our modern ‘hate speech is not free speech’ rhetoric, one could be an astronomer and be free to report findings, as long as they didn’t challenge the prevailing dogma, that the Earth was at the centre of the universe.  Like modern day supporters of hate speech laws, the church had their reasons to punish heresy.  Galileo was put under house arrest for contradicting holy scriptures, after promoting a model of the solar system which placed the sun, not the earth at the centre.  Despite evidence that this was so, such as the observation that Jupiter also had moons circling it, and his observation that Venus circled the sun, he went against the authority.  He had to be wrong, the Church said, because the dogma of the day said he couldn’t possibly be right.  The proposition that the Sun, not the Earth is stationary was described as “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.  ” This judgement sound eerily familiar, and “heretical” could just as easily be “racist” and “Holy Scripture” replaced with the dogmas and ideals of Tolerance and anti-racism.  Like almost all suppression of speech, this didn’t involve preventing speech, but punishment after speech.  However,
Galileo wasn’t right either, the Sun wasn’t stationary, but he was more correct than the position he was challenging.  Even if the Church had
exemptions for factual statements like in 18D, Galileo would not have been saved, as his model was still not fact.  Destroying the legitimacy of a falsehood is important, even if the idea that replaces it is still to a degree false.

Tyrants always have good excuses.

Communism in Eastern Europe was an abject failure from the beginning, but it persisted, resulting in millions of deaths, economic hardship and lack of freedom because it couldn’t be challenged.  While the constitution of the Soviet Union guaranteed freedom of speech, dissent against the Communist government couldn’t be allowed.  This was not considered free speech, but dangerous, counter-revolutionary speech that would imperil people.  Communism was seen as humanities hope of liberation, of the creation of a better life.  To speak against it was to derail progress, to damage mankind’s hope of a Communist utopia and freedom from class struggle.  They too, had good reasons to imprison those who were ‘counter-revolutionary’, reasons based on the assumption that the prevailing dogma was correct.  Today, Political Correctness, the bastard child of Marxism has taken this role.  The world will be fine, if only we become Politically Correct and tolerant.  Those who disagree are ensuring a future of misery and racism, and this if course, to those who are Politically Correct, can’t be tolerated.  As Peter Mlakar said in his “Winners and defeaters” speech, “the worst government is always the most moral one.  But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.  ”

Multiculturalism is unfortunately incompatible with free societies, as for it to appear to function, it requires further and further limitations on speech and behaviour, in order to force the ‘cohesive’ society that the system needs.

The prevailing view is not always correct

It was once believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe.  This wasn’t just a scientific theory, but a dogmatic assumption.  It was once
believed that disease could be cured by bleeding, which as we now know, was largely ineffective and often lethal.  This view wasn’t held due to evidence, but rather due to authority.  Truth was determined by decree, by court rather and texts than empirical evidence and observation, and once determined to be Truth, it became beyond contest.

Wars have been fought between peoples who could not challenge the Truths they were fighting for.  Lives have been lost due to medical Truths and assumptions where its challengers were ridiculed.  Freedom of speech isn’t about personal expression, it is about providing the checks and balances to challenge any status quo, any established dogma and any prevailing opinion or worldview which may be flawed.  Dissenting speech has often been the catalyst for the downfall of tyranny and backward dogma.  Critics of free speech ignore this and belittle free speech as being nothing more than ‘voicing a view’ which in the end is inconsequential.  But free speech is much more than this, it is the
mechanism by which society can evolve, it is the ability for any observation, any opinion, any view to find purchase and provide a better understanding, and tear down incorrect understandings and incorrect dogmas.  For the most part, most free speech is indeed of little consequence, but it is the minority of speech which provides pertinent challenges, new views, new understandings, or exposes important observations and realisations which make free speech essential.

Freedom-of-Speech-united-states-of-america-21760995-960-720It is for this minority of speech that free speech must be protected.  A lot of our ideals, our knowledge once faced fierce opposition, or was once
unpopular.  Each time, the ruling opinion knew it was right and assumed its correctness.  Why should we assume that this time it’s different? We can’t be sure and history teaches us that we most likely don’t, despite our own ego convincing us that we are.  Free speech helps us to evolve and progress, to continue to learn.  Within the torrents of speech and ideas that rush through the arena of public discourse, are small elements that may fundamentally shape and improve our tomorrow.

The left argue that social mores should be legislated, but how would they feel if this was done in the 1950’s?

No authority

Free speech rests on there not being an ‘authority’ to decree what is right and what is not, what is Fashionable Opinion and what is Intolerable.  Whether that authority is religious (Islam, Christian, Politically Correct), political or scientific, power to define truth must be kept out of the hands of individuals and discovered only by free discourse, and often fierce, lively debate.  Ideas must be tested and analysed openly and honestly through objective and impartial inquiry.  Some truths may offend our sensibilities, but it is only after accepting that truth and its expression that we can work around it.

The “hate speech” laws therefore pose a threat, not just due to the potential for them to be used to suppress important speech in the name of “harmony”, but due to the fact that acceptance of these laws means acceptance of any speech suppressing law.  Once we concede that the state does have legitimate reasons to ban speech it sees as problematic provided reason is given, then we open ourselves up for ANY speech to be banned.  Whether it be criticism of the governments workings, criticism of an economic system, there is no suppression of speech which can’t be done without thousands of words eloquently explaining its reason and with appeals to humanity and peace.  Almost any political objection can be banned for reasons of not inciting division, as there will always be division when there is more than one political view.  After all, what is starting a political party, other than creating an other avenue for
division? Contrary to what some might way, dissent and division of opinion are signs of a healthy society.  A socially harmonious society where everyone agrees would devolve into a stagnant tyranny.

Section 18C and it’s apologists represents a threat to open discussion, to keeping ideologies and systems in check and potentially our future wellbeing .  In the lefts desire to ban divisive and hateful speech, they play with fire and run the risk of providing consent for the government to further erode our democratic right to protest by extending its scope, beyond racism.

The proposed change to remove the words “offend, insult and humiliate” and replace them with “vilify” and “intimidate” don’t go far enough.  This simply means that anti-racists will use the worlds “vilify” and “intimidate” in the broadest terms.  It will become a battle of semantics, and “vilify” could be extended to include anything “offensive” and “insulting”, which are the words the Liberal party want to remove.  this could render the practical application of the law virtually indistinguishable from its current application, and fail to provide protection against borderline cases.  Judge Bromberg has set a precedent where even using facts does not warrant a defence, if one gets one fact wrong.  With such care being needed, many people will simply not take the risk.

There are already laws to protect people harassment, defamation and libellous statements.  The requirement for race specific laws is more about political silencing that human rights.  The fact that these anti-discrimination laws can punish someone for race based humiliation, but not humiliation based on physical or mental disability demonstrate that these laws don’t treat everyone equal, but put the feelings of ethnic minorities above others.

These laws don’t belong in a modern free society, and are a throwback to Eastern European Communism.  There existence provides a wedge to further
erode our right to discuss issues, and the exceptions allowed are weak.  Incorrect statements made through accident or through incorrect
reference sources could mean one loses the protection 18D required.  Bringing up new issues which have not yet been discussed could mean that one is not considered contributing to public debate, as there is no debate yet.  Also, these laws are very vague, with no clear boundary.  It is unclear what speech constitutes offence, and with media constantly misrepresenting the views of the majority, it is very difficult to gauge how a “reasonable person” would interpret a statement.  Could a particular voiced concern about immigration result in transgressing the law? One cannot be sure, as there are too many variables and unknowns.  This means many people choose to remain silent, and important issues remain un-discussed.

Repeal 18C now.

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3 Responses to Hate speech laws have got to go: Repeal 18C

  1. Paul petersen says:

    Repeai18c

  2. The g Factor says:

    The term ‘hate speech’ is just a name used to describe comments the politically correct want to suppress. It is a way of vilifying those whose views they disagree with. Furthermore there is no evidence that these laws make our society any safer – in fact they may do the opposite. Back in 1996 when Pauline Hanson said a lot of controversial things the homicide rate went down (and remember this was the same year that the Port Arthur massacre occurred).

  3. […] But with Australians, specifically White Australians, whom this law would affect most, this law means that we would find it difficult to speak, without risk, about issues affecting us.  The reason for this difficultly is to accommodate migrants who compete with us for jobs and homes.  This will lead to resentment, and Australians realize that they are stifled to speak up about their own social problems, their own demographic concerns, in order for some Indian to never have to feel offended due to some offhand comment.  Free speech is vital for a free society. […]

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